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Arc Trial Day: Boom or Bust?
You can see the Eiffel Tower from the grandstand at Longchamp, but the Arc de Trimphe is invisible form the same vantage point. Similarly, the Arc trials that will be run at the Parisian track on Sunday almost always present a blurred preview of the race that is named after France's second most famous monument.
The three course and distance preps for the 1 1/2-mile Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe that will be run on Sunday are the Group 1 Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares, the Group 2 Prix Niel for 3-year-old colts and fillies, and the Group 2 Prix Foy for older colts and fillies.
As the only Group 1 among them, the Vermeille (pronounced ver-may) rates as the day's feature, but it is not the most revealing of the three Arc preps. In the last thirty years, only 2008 Vermeille winner Zarkava has gone on to win the Arc. You have to go back to Three Troikas in 1979 and then San San in 1972 to find the previous Vermeille/Arc winners, although Detroit finished third in the 1980 Vermeille prior to her Arc triumph, and Akiyda was the Vermeille runner-up in 1982 leading up to her Arc success.
The Prix Foy (pronounced fwah) has an even worse record in producing Arc winners. Sagace finished first in both races in 1984 and 1985 but was disqualified from the '85 Arc. The closest a Foy winner has come to Arc glory since then was in 1999 when the Japanese-trained El Condor Pasa led most of the way only to be collared late by Montjeu, who was coming off a win in the Prix Niel.
The Foy has suffered further ignominy as an Arc prep since 1980 when three of its winners, Detroit, Carnegie and Montjeu, all failed to repeat their Arc victories of the previous year.
The Niel (pronounced nee-el) is, in fact, the most imporatnt of Arc preps. In the last 16 years, eight of its winners have gone on to win the Arc three weeks later, their names Carnegie, Helissio, Sagamix, Montjeu, Sinndar, Dalakhani, Hurricane Run and Rail Link.
Three days before the Arc trials, the Foy looks like the weakest of the three again. Byword, the Prince of Wales's Stakes winner who is stepping up to 1 1/2 miles for the first time in the Foy, will be challenged by Japanese raider Nakayama Festa, who will be making his first start since upsetting Buena Vista in the 1 3/8-mile Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin on June 27. Chinchon, the sharp looking winner of the 1 3/8-mile United Nations at Monmoth Park on July 3, is entered as well, but not with the Arc in mind. The Carlos Laffon-Parias trainee is aiming instead for the Canadian International, after which, all going according to plan, he will run in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Behkabad is the one to watch in the Niel. Currently William Hill's 5-1 second Arc favorite behind the 4-1 Fame and Glory, the Alain de Royer-Dupre trainee shares the same sire as last year's Arc winner, Sea the Stars. He is already a Niel/Arc course and distance winner, having taken the Grand Prix de Paris in his previous start on July 14.
Planteur, who beat St. Leger favorite Rewilding when winning the Group 2 Prix Noailles in April and has since finished second in both the French Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris, is Hill's co-fifth Arc favorite at 10-1.
The Niel wildcard is Victoire Pisa. A Neo Universe half brother to one-mile, Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen winner Asakusa Den'en, he won the 1 1/4-mile Japanese 2000 Guineas before failing as the favorite in his latest start when third in the 1 1/2-mile Japanese Derby.
This year's Vermeille could feature the fifth meeting between Midday and Sariska. The winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Midday was left in the Vermeille at the 3-day entry stage but might wait for the 1 1/4-mile Prix de l'Opera before heading to Churchill Downs for this year's Filly & Mare Turf. If she runs in the Vermeille, it may be an indication that trainer Henry Cecil and owner Khaled Abdullah are thinking of running her in the Arc.
Sariska didn't move a muscle when the gates opened for the Yorkshire Oaks on August 20, leaving the race to Midday. She has since put in a lot of work at the gate and trainer Michael Bell reports that it has all gone off without a hitch, but her backers will still be keeping their fingers crossed as she is loaded into the gate on Sunday.
Both Sariska and Midday have the undefeated Sarafina to beat in the Vermeille. This will be just the fourth career start for the Refuse to Bend filly, the last two coming in the 1 1/4-mile, Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary, and the 1 5/16-mile, Prix de Diane, or French Oaks. Hill's quotes her at 10-1 for the Arc, a race that is looking a little light this year what with the retirement of 11-length King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Harbinger.
One must also be concerned about the absence of 7-length Epsom Derby winner Workforce from any of the Arc preps. He finished up the track behind Harbinger in the King George. To win the Arc off a dull effort like that off a 10-week absence is asking too much of any horse.
The Arc market was was sent into turmoil when Fame and Glory was not entered in the Prix Foy, which had been his stated Arc prep if he didn't run in the Irish Champion Stakes on Sept. 4. He didn't run at Leopardstown that day and will now go straight to the Arc off his victory against lesser in the 1 1/4-mile, Group 2 Royal Whip Stakes at the Curragh on August 8. It is very difficult for any horse to win the Arc off such a long layoff. The last one to do it was Lammtarra, who waulted from his King George victory to win the Arc ten weeks later in 1995.
There are other Arc preps besides the Vermeille, Niel and Foy. Chief among them is the Irish Champion Stakes, which was won this year by Cape Blanco by 5 1/2 lengths from his Aidan O'Brien-trained stablemate Rip Van Winkle. Second to Harbinger in the King George, 'Cape' had previously won the Irish Derby. There is no telling how good he might be, but with Harbinger out of his way, he could be the Arc's value play at this stage, Hill's offering him at 6-1.
Will any of the Arc trials be trlevised? (Unfortunately not. HRTV does a great job televising British and some Irish stakes races, but we seem to have a mental block about French races, which are just as important as British. The French racing network, Equidia, provides great coverage but the language is, of course, French. This could be overcome with knowledgeable people in the American booth, commenting before and after the French race. Perhaps HRTV or TVG should think about this where the major French races are concerned. A few races on Arc Day will be televised, but only because the British networks pick up the feed.) AS
Alan, Great job on your two most recent blogs. It was like reading a who's who of racing and gave me goosebumps just reading the names of Nijinsky, Helissio, Montjeu and the like again. It's also good fun to read about what Midday is up to these days. Do you have a couple of favorites yourself for the Arc yet? If you have been to the Arc, can you describe what it's like? I went up to Saratoga a few times this season. I was greatly disappointed in the quality, or lack of same, that was widespread throughout the meet. With few exceptions, it could have been just another day at any track USA. On the turf, if a horse had early speed, it usually won. Kind of boring all in all, but I eked out a small profit. Is the quality of racing suffering in Europe too? Thanks, Jim L
I understand the same group of trainers have won the last 9-10 arc's. I'll take a shot that way. Last year I had 1st,2nd,3rd,and 4th not in order and didn't bet a superfecta/trifecta. I follow Brit racing saturday and sunday mornings to prep for the breeder's cup.